3 Mobile and Skype collaborate on VoIP phone

U.K. operator 3 Mobile, which shocked the industry last November by embarking on an open Internet model, is now collaborating with Skype to launch a customized VoIP phone. The device, code-named "white phone," is expected to launch later this month in the U.K., Italy, Hong Kong and Australia, markets where 3 also operates, according to report from BusinessWeek. The carrier's other markets will follow.

The development is interesting for sure given the fact that 3 continues to take many gambles in the open access environment, finding non-traditional ways to make money and bucking prevailing notions that open access cannibalizes existing services. For instance, 3 has said Skype and Windows Live Messenger services actually grow usage rather than cannibalizing revenues from existing services such as SMS.

In this latest move, Skype is hoping that easy mobile access to its service could spur more overseas call traffic. Cheap international connections could be quite attractive to mobile users, who don't often use their mobile phones for international calling because of the expense. And 3 is putting little international revenue at risk by working with Skype.

Operators should be watching 3 and Skype closely on this one. Their resistance to mobile VoIP can't last forever, and they need to find ways now to try and monetize it before a company like Nokia, which is pushing hard with a direct-to-consumer access strategy, does it on its own.--Lynnette

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